This is the first I’ve written about Boston…I didn’t comment about it at all on Facebook. I don’t exactly know why, but I think I needed time to let it all sink in. I was in a work meeting when the news popped up on my feed. “6 injured”, it said…I couldn’t focus on the meeting any longer. I knew that “6 injured” was hardly going to be the extent of the damage of life and spirit that this bombing would take.
Early Monday morning, before the tragedy, Hubs said, “You should run Boston after the baby. Make it your goal. We could fly out and stay with my mom–it would be great.” I chuckled and told him it’s not that easy to qualify for an official number. In my age bracket, I’d have to have a previous marathon time of 3:30 which is no easy feat. I know there are a lot of people who raise the charity money necessary to get an number and run, but there has always been something about Boston for me that is about qualifying. Selfish, I suppose, but ever since I have started running marathons, Boston has been that one race, high on the mountain top, that I have wanted to summit– with all of the pain and emotion that comes with completing 26.2 miles, Boston is the one.
As a runner, that pain you experience as you’re limping through miles of a marathon is something that is intensely relieved by the roar of the cheering crowds that line the streets for you. A random spectator calls your name on your shirt as you’ve hit a low point and says, “Keep going Sunny”. That’s all it takes. One person in a crowd to say, “Keep going.” and it’s an instant pick me up. It’s hard to explain unless you have felt that feeling, but it is amazing.
The crowds are especially vibrant and intense at the finish line, with everyone craning their necks to cheer for the battered runners who inch their way home, regardless if they know them or not. It is unlike any sporting event you’ve ever been to…it’s not about rooting for your team…the crowds root for everyone.
I have watched the video footage at the finish line a hundred times, and to witness that juxtaposition from elation and comradeship to terror and dismemberment has hit me to the core.
When I was sixteen years old, I was restless, unhappy, and generally sick of living and growing up in the San Fernando Valley (a suburb of Los Angeles.) Boston University came to LA to do a college talk, and I remember seeing images of the town and just knowing that this is the city where I wanted to be. My first trip to Boston to visit the BU campus solidified this feeling. When I attended BU, I was in awe at the change of seasons, the snow, the old stone buildings, and the city, steeped in tradition. Marathon Monday is a Boston tradition–there is no other city that can come close to the feeling of Boston on this day. In a blink of an eye and a 6 hour plane ride, I had transported myself from the brown Valley haze and 70s inspired strip malls to an old city built with bricks and stone. I was an awkward freshman, drunkenly cheering for runners in front of my dorm on Commonwealth Avenue. I was a college junior, cheering from a rooftop balcony on Boylston street. I was a college senior, pushing through hot crowds near Kenmore Square, taking in the city, knowing this was my last Marathon Monday in Boston…I was moving back to Los Angeles that August, 2001.
In September of 2001, I watched as American Airlines Flight 11, the flight I had been taking back and forth from LA to Boston during my time at BU, hit the North Tower. A classmate who I did not know well, but knew socially because there were so few of us at BU from LA, was on that plane. She was moving back to her family in LA, too. That day shattered me. Eventually, I picked up the pieces, as we all did, and plunged forward into building a life in Los Angeles, barely looking up to breathe.
It has been 12 years since I have lived in Boston, but Hubs coincidentally grew up there, so since we have dated and been married, I have been back there for visits multiple times. Each time I’m there, I feel the pull of the city. I see the college freshman, giggling nervously in groups, wanting desperately to fit in. I see the Esplanade: the stretch of trees and water where I first discovered the joys of running. The city is steeped in tradition, and holds memories of a younger me, 18 years old, trying life out for the first time, endless roads and mile markers. Joy and pain. Aching runners and jubilant spectators.
I am grieving right now for a city that has had such an innocent tradition ripped away from them like this, and for the hundreds of people who have been disfigured and killed because of it. I am grieving that another innocent event is now being forced to toughen up, don a protective shell, and harden.